[Written by my husband and published on iVillage here]
I was on the phone to my mate last night discussing all the normal stuff we usually cover – the obligatory wife/mum jokes, sports and the family. But when I got off the phone something started to trouble me. His daughter now has a phone. She can text, email, surf the web and access social media. She is an expert on it. It has her own personalised cover, ringtone and screensaver. It was bloody expensive as well.
This seems normal enough – parents buy their kids phones all the time. But, she’s five. Yes, five years old and she can use the phone as if she is an adult. She’s sending her cousin pictures of her room and she’s scrolling through pages and pages of innocent material specifically for kids. She loves ABC Kids programs so has an app to access that content, and is able to stream it.
To her, it’s natural. Her phone is a gadget that allows her to access what she likes to watch, and she sees nothing wrong with this. Why would she? Mum and Dad are on their phones a lot – on social media, games, and news websites – streaming the stuff that they like and connecting with their friends. I actually met my wife using the internet on my phone, so why should our kids be any different? Why is it that something I use religiously every single day sends a shiver down my spine when owned by a child, and I turn into Old Man River and say “Dude, that’s way too young!”?
Let me add something to this to muddy the waters even more – my job is to design these apps and digital environments, and to influence human behaviours. But it scares the living sh*t out of me.
I’m in control of getting you, the user, from A-B. My job is to understand your idiosyncrasies without even chatting to you. I just look at data and focus group interviews, then build personas around your behaviors. Your every move in a connected environment is tracked by my team and I. We know how to get you to buy a reindeer warmer when you live in Noosa, and a pair of boardies when you live in Siberia. I shape your online behavior. We all do – Facebook, Google, Instagram and the like collect so much info they could probably tell you what time you last did a ‘number two’, what time the next one will be and what toilet paper you liked. I think you’ll agree, that’s some freaky shit.
But for kids, what does this mean? Everything is easy and right there in their hands. Why ask Dad “how are babies made?”, or “who is the greatest Manly Sea Eagles player of all time?” (it’s Brett Stewart, FYI). It’s all there in black and white. And there is problem number one. It’s all there with no context, no filters and no fluffy ways of explaining. With one simple question typed into Google the legend of the big fat man who makes all kids excited once a year comes crashing to the fucking ground. There will be no big bad cousin breaking that news to the little tikes when they are older, because it’s right there in the palm of their hands. Innocence, gone! You are never getting that one back.
And then there is the shit they really shouldn’t see – the bad people of the world that get off doing deplorable acts and prey on kids with phones. Kids are already using Snapchat, an app specifically designed to send pictures that automatically delete. Innocent in the hands of a child, but easily poisoned by the creepiest of monsters that lurk in broad daylight.
Steve Jobs, the man who changed the world forever (literally, imagine a world without iPads and iPhones!) wouldn’t let his kids use iPads, saying:
“We have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
This from the guy who invented these things. And that’s about enough validation as I need to think twice about giving one to my son.
I know about the data that gets collected, the details people know about you that you have never even met, the darkweb and the shady shady creatures who lurk there. Why would I give my son a vehicle that can take his innocent journey and turn it on its head in a flash?
There is only so much control you can have when the device is in the hands of children. You can block, delete and monitor apps, but as with sneaking out of their room or ransacking the fridge they will always find a way. Which is something that I want to put off for as long as humanly possible.
But how do I tell my boy “NO”? I am on the ‘digital crack’ morning, noon and night. I need to put it down, and so does my wife. We need to step back from this digital reality and watch him tear the house to bits, let him find out it hurts when he bangs his head and that playing outside in puddles of mud is a lot more fun that some fluffy app that turns him in zombie. Yes, it’s lovely having peace and quiet whilst the kids zone out to a movie or tap-tap-tap to their little heart’s content, but it’s a fine line to tread. These devices are evil, they are addictive and they are a doorway to a world that no one fully understands.
I guess this article is a bit preachy, but I don’t care because the dangers are real. This isn’t a good parenting/bad parenting piece, it’s a ‘holy fuck this shit is getting scary’ piece. Give that little purchase a good think-over.